the  document in different resolutions

From the collection of the Deutsches Historisches Museum:

First Printing in German of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4, 1776


Gerd- J. Bötte *

First Printing, in German, of the American Declaration of lndependence (Philadelphia: Steiner & Cist, 1776)


Description of print and text:

The first German translation of the American Declaration of lndependence was published as a broadside in unfolded form by the printing press of Steiner & Cist of Philadelphia.

The acquired copy measures 41.1 cm in length and 33.4 cm in width. The printed area measures 38.0 x 27.6 cm.

Handmade, ribbed paper was used to print on. The paper shows no visible watermark. 75 horizontal chain lines can be seen at intervals of 2.5 to 2.6 cm. The paper is 0.13 mm thick on average.

In spite of brown-spotting throughout, several damp stains and water spots plus a little damage (which has been partially restored), the state of preservation of this document can be assessed overall as remarkably good if compared with products from this period of German-American printing and this especially since, as a rule, broadside prints and other ephemeral publications have been handed down under extremely difficult conditions of conservation.

The sheet has been folded three times thus achieving an octavo size. Where the folds cross, the document shows some flaws in the unprinted spaces especially in the sheet center. Minor loss of print or cutting faces in the left print column have been expertly restored in facsimile (line 14, »gegruendet, u[nd]« plus beginning of lines 25-27: »[verschaff]en», »[ist jetzt die Noth]wendigkeit« and »[Systeme)«].

The middle sections of the octavo-fold, outside left and right, show four corresponding brown damp stains, which shows that the sheet has been stored for some time in this folded form. The document also shows two vertical folding creases, very similar in size -each 7.4 to 7.5 cm to the left and right of the printed area. The upper and lower edges of the paper have no such crease folds, probably because the paper was torn off at some point.

These vertical folds as well as the upper and lower edges of the sheet show a total of nine stitch tacks. In contrast to the damp stains, which tend to appear when paper is folded, these stitch tacks are not symmetrical, which means that at some unknown point they served to mount the document on cardboard for presentation purposes.

The typographical design of the Steiner & Cist prints shows not only their close relation to American printing methods but also certain typical characteristics of German-American printing. In contrast to methods used at the time outside Germany, i. e. the Antiqua-type, the German translation of the Declaration of lndependence was set in Gothic type to adapt to the German-American readership. The layout of the title corresponds in its setting and length of lines completely to the English first version, which was printed by John Dunlap immediately prior to the German publication. However, diverging from Dunlap's print, Steiner & Cist decided to set in two columns since this method improved readability: the flow text of the left column has 69 lines, the right-hand column shows 62 lines. The formatting of the paragraphs again corresponds precisely to the 32 paragraphs of the Dunlap version, which highlights the problems encountered by translators and printers when trying to produce as authentic a copy as possible.

The quality of the skills involved in producing this German version of the American Declaration of Independence manifests itself in the total absence of printing errors, while the not quite precisely horizontal running of the lines on paper may be a indication that the document was produced under some pressure of time.


* Project Manager at the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, Dept. Sammlung Deutscher Drucke 1701-1800



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